Now when Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” Matthew 16:13
I just returned from Israel. On this trip, I visited Caesarea Philippi for the first time. Jesus took His disciples on a thirty mile trip north in Israel to ask them a very important question and to drive home a very important truth.
In Jesus’ day, Caesarea Philippi was an important center. Seated at the bottom of the slopes of Mount Hermon, the center was the place that one of the headwaters of the Jordan River was located. Out of the mountain flowed water which made the area lush and beautiful. Just up the slopes above the center was a pit that the ancients could not find the bottom of. The pit fascinated the Greek people of the area and the area became the center of the worship of Pan, the half man – half goat god of panic. A temple was built on the site for Pan and niches were placed in the temple to honor Echo, the nymph consort of Pan and Hermes, Pan’s father. The pit became known as a gate to the underworld; the gate of Hades into which sacrifices were thrown.
When the Romans conquered the area, Herod the Great built a temple to Augustus, the Roman Emperor next to the temple of Pan in gratefulness for giving him jurisdiction over the area. There was also a temple built there to Nemesis, the goddess of revenge, Zeus, the ruler of all the Greek gods, and a couple of places that honored sacrifices to these gods and rulers.
It was at this particular place, that Jesus chose to ask His disciples the question of His deity. Simon Peter answered the question for all of the disciples, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Now, picture the scene if you will:
Jesus and His disciples sat at the bottom of the slope of Mount Hermon. Just about forty yards above them sits the temples of Pan, Augustus, Zeus, Nemesis, and the pit to the underworld.
I believe that Jesus purposely chose this pagan place to make known to His disciples who He is. Jesus tells His disciples this in the Amplified Version:
“And I tell you that you are Peter (Petros – a large piece of rock), and on this rock (petra – a huge rock like Gibraltar) I will build My church, and the gates of Hades (the powers of the infernal regions) shall not overpower it.” Matthew 16:18
The temples to the pagan gods of Caesarea Philippi are in shambles. The church of Jesus Christ built upon people like Peter who know their God is still alive! The gates of Hades and the powers of the infernal regions of darkness shall not – cannot prevail or overpower it!
This truth is brand new to me after visiting this place for myself. I am a part of that huge rock! If you are Jesus’ disciple, then so are you! The gates of Hell will not prevail against you!